back to article Cruises on ex-Soviet space warships offered

A radical space company which counts an ex-NASA space station commander among its executives says it will offer week-long tourist trips in space from 2013 for just $35m. Apart from basic capsules the company has acquired - and may in future deploy - a fleet of 1970s Russian military-surplus armed orbital spacecraft. An Almaz …


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  1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Space Commander Training .... Soviet Style

    The Flight Simulator would be an Interesting Piece of Kit. QuITe Heavenly Actually.

  2. Andy C


    Hopefully they had some type of retro/reverse pulse rocket to fire at the same time as the guns or could go horribly wrong... Especially if the guns were not mounted centrally... Would be like playing space invaders by just holding down the thrust + left + fire keys...

  3. sandman


    Put lasers on them and a noise maker in the capsule to replicate the Star Wars style cannon noises, deploy a few small pyrotechics, send up a couple of capsules at a time and play space laser quest. (You might need a water vapour gun or two to create a temporary atmosphere so the beams would be visible). Now that would be worth $30,000,000 if you were bored and rich.

    Can we have a laser icon?

  4. Daniel Garcia 2

    risky, innit?

    it is the only thing coming from the back of my head reading this.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Waste of money"...

    Yeh, you want to upgrade from the $200k option to the $35m option. It's not THAT much extra, after all...

    I wonder if there's any chance of a little loan to see me through the weekend from those nice people at Excalibur Almaz? Just ten or twenty mill should be fine, thanks.

  6. RainForestGuppy

    Newtonian Physics

    Am I missing something???

    "At least one of the Almaz orbiters was secretly armed with a powerful automatic aircraft cannon, intended for use in the event of a space battle with American craft and test-fired in orbit."

    If the gun fired wouldn't there be a equal an opposite force in the opposite direction, sending the spacecraft spiralling off? Even a recoilless gun requires some bracing to hold it firm.

  7. Winkypop Silver badge

    1970's Russian hardware

    What could possibly go wrong?

  8. Anonymous John

    now being upgraded with modern life-support and electronics,

    That doesn't sound cheap. I'm not sure I'd trust 40 year old manoeuvring thrusters or heat shield either.

    Is this any cheaper than building news ones from scratch?

  9. Dan 7


    "If the gun fired wouldn't there be a equal an opposite force in the opposite direction, sending the spacecraft spiralling off? Even a recoilless gun requires some bracing to hold it firm."

    Depends on the amount of force/momentum created by the cannon in relation to the mass of the spacecraft. Sat in an inflatable dingy-esque spacecraft and fire a howitzer and sure you'd be half way to the moon in one shot. With an anti-aircraft gun (similar to a flak cannon I presume) onboard a several ton sizeable spacecraft then no it wouldn't go flying off in to the ether as the manouvering jets would be able to keep it in place.

    But there is a viable inertia-less alternative Im happy to have an excuse to say.....

    PEW PEW WTF LASERS :) hehe

  10. Ken Hagan Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Excellent idea

    Anyone daft enough to spend 35 million on a week-long jaunt in a 40-year old space ship believed at the time to be too dangerous to put a test pilot into REALLY needs to be removed from the gene pool and this has got to be the most fun (for everyone else) way to do it.

  11. Lionel Baden
    Paris Hilton

    recoiless gun !!

    am i being daft but would that not make any difference in space ???

    it would still be pushing mass in another direction ????

    but then again its only small amounts of mass being shoved out so im thinking the 2 ton aircraft wouldnt be affected that much or ????

  12. Anonymous Coward


    So your saying it needed two equal and opposite guns?

    or perahps they just used a manoevering thruster...

    hmmm.. 100 gram lead slug verses 5000KG craft... hmm wonder how severe the 'spiraling off' is...

  13. JohnG

    1970's Russian hardware

    1970's Russian hardware has been keeping the ISS resupplied for some time now - during several periods in which the USA's alternatives have been grounded. The Russians are big fans of the philosophy "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". They had all their accidents in the 60s and 70s - now they have kit that is reliable, they see no need to bring in new kit that would put them back to square one.

    They have also been making commercial satellite launches using modified ICBMs. They signed up to a treaty saying they would destroy certain numbers of ICBMs and they have chosen to destroy the ICBMs by using them as satellite launchers.

  14. Hans Mustermann

    Re: Newtonian Physics

    Trust me, they must have known about the basic laws of motion, because:

    1. They managed to put the damned things in orbit to start with, and

    2. Salyut 3 actually fired that autocannon 3 times at an older Russian satellite, and claimed hits. So, you know, the first two sure didn't seem to send it spinning or anything.

    And generally, while there are things sometimes engineers miss, assuming that nobody there would have heard of Newton is a bit presumptuous. Yes, there would be action and reaction, it would change their orbit a little... and that's just the kind of thing they had thrusters for, in the first place.

    As for the exact gun, the one on the Salyut 3 was, depending on which source you believe, either a 23mm Nudelmann auto-cannon or a 30mm Nudelmann.

  15. Tom Smith 1 Silver badge


    @ Lionel Baden: It's a conservation of momentum thing. m1v1=m2v2 where m1 is the mass of the projectile, and v1 it's velocity, and m2 and v2 are the mass of the capsule and it's final velocity respectively.

    Guestimate numbers (ie tottaly made up and not really anything to do with reality)

    m1 = 10g == 0.01kg

    m2 = 10 tons == 1000kg

    v1 = 500 m/s

    v2 = (m1v1)/m2 = 0.005m/s in the opposite direction to the shell . So not very fast really and presumably well within the thruster's capabilities, although on one website I read

    "firing caused considerable shaking of the station itself, therefore in-orbit tests of the weapon during manned operations were ruled out." (

  16. bexley

    Am i th eonly one who wonders how a gun can work in a vacuum?

    I mean, you need oxgen to help with the explosion of cordite right? No oxygen = no explosion = no projectile?

    I'm sure it must be possible but would like to know how

  17. Lloyd

    Why pick on Porkins?

    Poor guy could hardly fit in his X Wing, probably just a well he got shot down really, sooner or later he would've fallen out of his ship and squashed an innocent bystander.

  18. bexley


    It seems that the cordite itself contains enough oxygen to facilitate combustion...

  19. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    The Magic Babushka Matryoshka Doll

    "Excellent idea .... Anyone daft enough to spend 35 million on a week-long jaunt in a 40-year old space ship believed at the time to be too dangerous to put a test pilot into REALLY needs to be removed from the gene pool and this has got to be the most fun (for everyone else) way to do it.".... By Ken Hagan Posted Friday 11th September 2009 14:46 GMT

    Ken, What if a New Use for Space is Discovered and Earthed Simulations of Space Travel Leads in a New Virtual Direction for All Travellers and Nomads .... Space Bedouin.

  20. Tom 11

    = and opposite blah blah blah

    has anyone forgotten that these are in ORBIT, therefore flying round the earth at several thousand miles an hour? even if they were geosynchronous they'd have a hell of lick on, a mirco second of dampnered thurst wouldn't even register.

  21. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    ???? .... A title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits. ... ok, Thanks

    "risky, innit? is the only thing coming from the back of my head reading this." ..... By Daniel Garcia 2 Posted Friday 11th September 2009 13:41 GMT

    Thinking of Risk, is the Large Hadron Collider Insured Against Catastrophic Loss/Act of God/Whatever? I wonder who Assessed the Risk on that Baby/Mother? Lets Hope, for she is Eternal, they were at least Einsteins.

  22. Hans Mustermann

    Cordite doesn't need oxygen

    Cordite doesn't need oxygen, because it's really based on the decomposition of Nitrocellulose. All explosives I know of contain everything they need to "burn", either by containing an oxidiser or by being based on a mollecule which decomposes rapidly. The tiny amount of oxygen inside a firearms cartridge wouldn't even start to be enough or make any difference.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Waste of resources.

    Would these people just be going up there to prove what selfish assholes they are? we already know.

  24. SlabMan

    Risk, risk, risk

    True - but, oh, what larks! (as Toad said). I'd go like a shot (from a Nudelman) but I'm a bit boracic right now.

    Flagged as Escape - for the velocity

  25. Richard Scratcher

    Too risky indeed!

    Knowing my luck, I'll get seated next to some fat businessman who eclipses the window and hogs all the armrest. No doubt he'll snore, suffer from constant zero-g sickness and bore me to death with tales of how he made his fortune selling paper "sizzle packs" on e-bay.

    No thanks. I'll spend my imaginary $35m on something more worthwhile.

  26. John Freeman

    Light Bulb

    Here's an idea. Why not take that 30,000,000 and become a saint in a Third World country. Think how many mouths you could feed with that, neh? What's better, a week in space or Immortality?

  27. Johnny Utah


    Weird timing -- I never knew about these spy programs until I saw a NOVA episode about it a couple of days ago ( ).

    The Air Force animation they have in the show is pretty great (see chapter 3):

    I know it's just a little creative license when the article refers to "gun turrets" on the Almaz, but according to the NOVA show the 23mm canon appears to have been stationary and a cosmonaut who trained on Almaz describes the basic process of rotating the entire station to aim the weapon head on at an approaching target. It's in chapter 5 from the above link.

  28. Daniel Garcia 2

    @ amanfromMars

    You can not asses the risk of 1 Step beyond last Known Frontier, but you can asses the risk on go to Space on something that one of your fellows Up There will say: "You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought"

  29. Stevie


    The lack of grasp of the principles involved shown by the majority of the commentators is truly the most unbelievable part of the whole story.

    What part of recoil-less escapes the masses?

    And guns that require oxygen are called flintlocks.

    For crying out loud! Even if you didn't pay attention in skool there's the wikipedia. Okay, as you were. I don't know where I was going with that.

  30. jake Silver badge

    @bexley & re:article

    bexley, cordite hasn't been used for years. To the best of my knowledge, nobody even makes it anymore. I could be wrong; if anyone knows of a source, I'd like to hear it :-) ... As other people have pointed out, the propellant charge in ammunition contains both the fuel and the oxidizer. In other news, it doesn't "explode", it burns very quickly.

    Re:article ... I wonder what the insurance company of anyone capable of wasting US$35million for a one week vacation would have to say about such a jaunt?

  31. Lars Silver badge

    who knows

    As one Finnish Army General once put it on the TV. If there are more than two moving parts in Russian equipment they wont work.

    Perhaps a rocket does not have that many moving parts.

  32. Silentmaster101

    Aircraft guns, not Anti

    Read the Bloody article. it says aircraftgun, not anti aircraft gun. so a 20mm gattling gun or the like. not some FLAK88 from ww2.

    if that doesnt send a normal smaller, fighter flying then, no a larger spacecraft wont go anyplace either.

  33. jake Silver badge


    "What part of recoil-less escapes the masses?"

    Most "recoilless" weapons have a vent out the back that allows the burning gas to escape as the projectile leaves the barrel. In theory, the two thrusts balance and the person firing the piece feels no recoil. However, the Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 the Soviets reportedly carried into space was a conventional short-recoil gun, with an action similar to most auto-loading handguns and rifles. The ammunition looks just like a rifle cartridge, only larger (metacrawl "23x115mm" to find pictures). Trust me, it has a large recoil ... but recoil is relative.

    "And guns that require oxygen are called flintlocks."

    Wrong. Black powder does not require an external oxygen source.

    The lack of a grasp of ... ah, fsck it, I can't be arsed.

  34. Glen Turner 666

    Let's go and do a littl space hunt'n

    They took the cannon out? Now if they'd left the cannon in, then $35m starts to look reasonable.

  35. Anonymous Coward


    Comments on the proposed expensive trips into space quickly devolved into discussions of the simple physics of how to toss away ounces of metal without disturbing the orbital position or attitude of the craft. Goes to show what this generation of UK commentors know about firing guns at all. Of course the propellant for the gun has its own oxidiser and burns without external atmosphere, as has been mentioned. HOWEVER, this generates a certain amount of hot gas. To simplify, the speed of the bullet depends on how quickly the propellent burns and the expansion of the resulting gas. The gas pressure pushes the bullet out. Not all of the gas is required to shove the bullet and can be used to cycle the gun mechanism to load another round into the firing chamber. Regardless, the casing and the gas used will be expelled; hopefully not into the craft at all.

    Not being familiar with the arms used by the Soviets, I can't comment on the type of ammunition used; there are instances of caseless bullets. Simply porting the excess gas to the rear of the gun and out would help prevent a small amount of attitude change. And the thrusters, if needed, could be used. The magic would be in the targeting system used, and the gun pointing device. Who cares if the craft's position is moved to the side a couple of cm's. As long as the gun is still pointed at the target is the important thing.

  36. John Savard

    A true bargain...

    If I had $32 million, I would have better things to spend it on... but it cost a lot more than that to put John Glenn into orbit. So this is a massive reduction in the cost of putting payloads into space. Which could be applied in more useful ways than tourism.

  37. Pete "oranges" B.

    The question remains...

    Why put a an autocannon from circa 1949 on a modern spacecraft in the first place? Wouldn't some flavor of self propelled missiles be more effective?

    Also, I believe andy c is thinking of "Asteroids," as I don't recall there ever being a button for thrusters in "Space Invaders".

  38. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Reducing Risk with Known Rogue Trades ... for Rare RAW Premium IPXXXXChange

    "You can not asses the risk of 1 Step beyond last Known Frontier, but you can asses the risk on go to Space on something that one of your fellows Up There will say: "You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought"" ..... By Daniel Garcia 2 Posted Friday 11th September 2009 19:06 GMT

    I thoroughly agree that you cannot normally assess the risk of 1 Step beyond last Known Frontier, Daniel Garcia 2, but it is hardly a forward step to repeat the past known experience for others whenever there are Beta Novel Noble Programs in Earthed Simulations with ZerodDay Gravity in Virtualised Space Command and Control Green Rooms Red Hot Zones .... Leading Issues with Commendable Source. It is a Great Novelty though.

    Pre Oil Boom, "If there are more than two moving parts in Russian equipment they wont work." ... By Lars Posted Friday 11th September 2009 19:48 GMT, may have worked. Now everything, Lars, slips perfectly into its rightful place.

    It is a Stealthy Knack the Russians Master, is Misunderestimation of Native Resolve and QuITe Imperial Rasputin Powers.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    1970's Russian hardware



    Good one.

    Minsk anyone?

    Chernobyl perhaps?

    How about Aeroflot comrade?

  40. Anonymous John

    @ 1970's Russian hardware

    There's a big difference between a 40 year old design and 40 year old hardware. While the launcher and Soyuz look the same externally, they must contain a lot of modern technology.

  41. JohnG

    1970's Russian hardware

    @Anonymous Coward Posted Saturday 12th September 2009 08:24 GMT

    If the old Russian hardware is so bad, why are NASA and other ISS participants using it? Why are US spacecraft less reliable?

  42. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Re 1970's Russian hardware

    Ukraine Girls, AC. SMART Munitions for EMissions. Hard to Beat in Spooky Circles.

  43. Gilbert Wham

    @Pete "oranges" B

    Because, as has been pointed out, the Russians like things that work. Their spaceships may be big clunky bits of metal, designed by men with slide-rules & pencils behind their ears, but they do go up & down a lot without exploding. Presumably, the choice of cannon was driven by a similar philosophy of wanting something that would reliably go 'bang' on cue...

    Thumb Up

    Just Another Rubber Rope

    @ AC Sep 12 0824 - Hello comrade, Minsk is really a жопа, they should have been possibly paid for making the design of the bike and performance of the engine so poor.

    I agree also that if you suppress the automatic defence and increase the output to support a far-going orbital testing with all power of Testers... any power station may easily go titsup, especially considering a specific model of the reactor. More than two parts moving, yeah, just like that Finnish Gen said.

    Aeroflot, which folk symbol was a cold blue boiled chicken leg, usually served as a combination of 1st and 2nd meal, and those violent non-smoking laws of the company! Nowadays, if one enters the lounge of some lucky IL-86 to have a drink, there is a definite smell of grass in the air. And this was a real Zen spirit, the Soviet advertising - "Fly By Planes of Aeroflot" when it was the only company in the country.

    Well, jumping to the theme (-: the Almaz was specially crafted for Spetsnaz forces. Today it represents a kind of, you know, that long rubber rope wich you jumped off the Westminster bridge last night with, but which is made for going jumping into the opposite direction. People love things like that... well, not everybody had a chance to get to know about it yet, maybe?

    The following statement finally explains the trend. This one on photo is a modern version called "Almaz 35M".


  45. Matthew 4


    1970's USSR technology?

    Must be about the most expensive suicide option available!

  46. jake Silver badge

    @Pete "oranges" B.

    "Why put a an autocannon from circa 1949 on a modern spacecraft in the first place?"

    Cheap, lightweight(ish), available, tried & true technology. I'm guessing accuracy in near vacuum and microgravity would be in the arc-second range, +/- a bit.

    "Wouldn't some flavor of self propelled missiles be more effective?"

    Again, I'm only guessing, but at the ranges involved, getting them out of Earth's gravity well becomes cost prohibitive. Large bullets and a tube to fire 'em out of are probably the best non-computerized option for taking out satellites at relatively large distances, orbit-orbit ... with the added benefit of the other side not being certain if it was a natural bit of space junk or something cooked up by the "bad guys" (whoever THAT is ...).

  47. Mr Mark V Thomas

    Re: let's go and do a littl space huntin...

    Let's hope that they have disarmed & removed the Self- Destruct System, that Almaz once possessed, in order to avoid capture by the U.S, otherwise...

    Mine's the one with the arming keys for the self-destruct system in the pocket...

  48. David 141

    A better business model

    "We have a 20mm canon trained on your billion dollar sattelite, and unless you pay us $100 million in the next 24 hours it becomes space junk".

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Safety concerns aside..

    If I had the spare cash and wanted to do some space tourism, the week long orbital jaunt would the option I would choose...

    Seriously the Virgin jaunt isn't space tourism, it's an expensive theme park ride... it's a bit like paying for a flight to another city, except the plane doesn't land, you just get to have a quick peek out the window as you fly over and then they turn around and flying you home.

  50. Stef 4

    A week?

    Putting the horrendous cost aside, doesn't anyone else think that a week is a long time to be stuck in a tiny capsule with 2 other cosmonauts' farts?

    After you've lost your lunch for the 7th time, and completed your 19th zero-grav backflip, what else is there to do? Sure you can play with a water bubble for half an hour or so, but the whole "No gravity" novelty is going to wear out quicte quickly isn't it?

    Having to attach a hoover to yourself just to use the toilet, for example. Not my idea of $30million of fun.

    I hope he brings a book with him.

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